Things Are Looking Up!

Things Are Looking Up!

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Things Are Looking Up!

My radiation treatment itself was relatively short and painless, but lying still and getting set up on the table while technicians sight in the tattoos marking my radiation site was boring. As I lay immobilized on the table, all I could see was a huge machine above me, and my peripheral vision picked up trays of human masks for brain-tumor radiation and ominous-looking wires and equipment. The ceiling had acoustic drop-in panels with lots of holes. I had thoughts of lying there every day for six weeks counting holes in the ceiling while the crossed red laser beams gleamed above as I listened to the groan of the machinery. This was going to be a mental endurance contest.

The second day of treatment, I noticed a few ceiling tiles resting on the side wall of the room. I asked the assistant, “What is being planned for those?”

He said, “They’re being replaced.”

Out of the blue, I asked, “Could I take two tiles home with me and stencil designs on them?” Wow, I thought. I’ll need to think of a design, paint it, and then I’d have something to look at while the machine hums.

The technician said, “Go ahead.”

The first panel I brought back was well-received and instantly installed. I chose to paint a cat among geranium pots looking out a window with stars in the sky. The staff got a kick out of it, and just having something to look at took my mind off the machine and its work. At the end of my session, I took another panel home. By the end of my treatments, I had stenciled scenes in every direction, so no matter what therapy anyone was receiving, the patient could focus on some fish on a reef, grapevines and baskets, horses galloping across a field, etc.

Needless to say, I became the talk of the treatment center during my six weeks. Elderly patients actually waited to see my next installment and thanked me for my efforts. I was able to open conversations with strangers in the waiting room. Other patients told me their fears and concerns, and I was able to alert the staff to handle their questions. I think this simple gesture made a huge difference in the center—it relaxed the patients, made the place friendlier, and warmed the hearts of all of us going through such scary and trying times.

I ultimately ended up doing a second treatment room in the same building, and word spread to my chemotherapy office, where I painted more. I even ended up traveling to Pittsburgh to work with a film crew, documenting breast-cancer survivors and their stories: Two Chicks, Two Bikes, One Cause.

In all, the experience lightened my heart and gave me hope for the future. Each day, I had homework, and it was fun to “think of a scene” and surprise the staff and patients in the morning. Through my small gesture, I feel I helped distract and comfort other patients. I’m so glad I found the energy to contribute to others in trying times. It did wonders for me!

Teri Reath D’Ignazio

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